The Truth of the Matter
What is truth? Can truth be known? Why would anyone want to know what truth is in the first place? This essay answers these questions based on the analysis Heidegger offers in Being and Time. It also attempts to show how Heidegger's conception of truth differs from the traditional view and how this difference reflects the disparity between the Heideggerian and Cartesian ontologies.
Heidegger resists the idea that an entity and a statement about it must agree for the latter to be true. The relationship of 'agreement' suggests that there is a comparison being made between what one thinks and the object one is thinking about; one's thoughts are true if they are like the actual object. Heidegger, however, insists that this conception of truth is derived from a phenomenon of truth which is more fundamental. In his words:
to say that an assertion "is true" signifies that it
uncovers the entity
as it is in itself. Such an assertion asserts, points out, 'lets' the entity
'be seen'... in its uncoveredness.
A true assertion reveals an entity, showing it for what it is, and is confirmed as true when "... that which is put forward in the assertion (namely the entity itself) shows itself as that very same thing". As an example suppose Dasein asserts that his new roommate has red hair. The assertion reveals a quality about this particular entity, and it is confirmed when the roommate walks through the door and is observed to indeed have red hair.
It is difficult to see what Heidegger is trying to accomplish here. The distinction he makes between the traditional conception of truth and the alternative he offers seems tenuous at best (imaginary at worst). A comparison of sorts is still being made. How can an assertion's truth be confirmed if one's ideas are not being likened in some way to their object?
The distinction made between these conceptions of truth is due to the difference in the ontologies with which they are associated. As the traditional conception of truth is based on an ontology that holds the psychical and physical to be entirely different substances, it is natural to regard one's thoughts as representations of physical entities. It follows that thoughts concerning these entities are true only if these psychic representations resemble the physical thing that is actually there. But Heidegger's ontology divides the universe differently. He distinguishes between entities based on their being, Dasein's being different from all other entities only in that it cares. As a caring entity Dasein is both in-the-world and alongside entities within-the-world. The very being of Dasein discloses the world and the entities it harbors, and this is what makes it possible for an assertion to uncover an entity. When Dasein sees a picture and states that it is askew, this assertion is about an entity which is directly accessible to Dasein, not a psychic representation thereof. It is as it is disclosed. If what the assertion maintains is confirmed by what is disclosed to Dasein, then it is true.
For a statement to be true, then, means that it uncovers, it reveals something as it really is. Can Dasein actually know truth, however? Based on what is mentioned above, the answer must be affirmative. To reiterate, Dasein's very being is characterized by disclosedness. Because Dasein's being is marked by throwness and projection, it may uncover entities within-the-world and itself, respectively. Admittedly, this does not mean that Dasein always does so. Since Dasein's being is also one of falling, that is, of being absorbed by the world as it is publicly interpreted, Dasein may also fail to perceive entities as they truly are. Thus:
... Dasein is already in the truth and the untruth... [and]
achieved only... in distinguishing between these understandingly, and
making one's decision for the one rather than the other.
It is possible for Dasein to know the truth concerning a given matter, but this is no guarantee that he does.
Why does the question of truth arise at all? For the most part people concern themselves with what truth is and whether humans can attain it because they experience moments of being in untruth or fear that they are unknowingly in such a situation. They may learn the hard way, for instance, that there is a window between them and the objects for which they reach. People desire to avoid such scenarios, and they believe that were they to know the truth of the matter they could do so. If Heidegger's assessment is correct, then Dasein is not barred from the truth (at least not permanently).
The question, then is whether Heidegger is indeed correct. His ontology and conception of truth are appealing, as they circumvent the major problems which accompany the traditional views. If involvement with other entities is constitutive of Dasein's very being, questions to the effect of how Dasein can interact with other entities become moot. Nevertheless a philosophy's appeal does not prove its validity. Since, however, the author of this essay cannot at this time devise any argument which decisively disproves Heidegger's stance, it is suggested that it at least be tentatively accepted as an alternative to the traditional analysis.
In summary a statement is true if it uncovers an entity, not if it agrees with an entity in the sense of replicating it. Because Dasein's being is one of disclosedness, it may discover, and hence uncover, entities in-the-world and within-the-world. This connect the being of truth with the being of Dasein. This means the very existence of truth depends on Dasein's existence, and it is accessible to Dasein.